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Tsagaan Sar – Mongolian Lunar New Year

The Mongolian Lunar New Year is known as Tsagaan Sar (White Month). It is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice and is a traditional holiday lasting a minimum of three days that brings together family members.

What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

In the words of Amaraa: ‘It’s a great holiday for Mongolians to welcome spring having passed through the  harsh winter.’ Following in similar words is Zumbee ‘It is Mongolia’s biggest traditional ceremony. It symbolises the first day of spring when winter ends and temperatures begin to get warmer.’ It is also one of the oldest festivals celebrated in Mongolia. As Mishka says, ‘It is a very respectful holiday, especially for the younger generation. As we celebrate Tsagaan Sar, it gives us a connection with the traditions and customs of our ancestors and how these were inherited by future generations. It is a chance to meet close and far relatives and meeting newborns in our whole family.’


Prior To Tsagaan Sar  (in brief, you clean!)

  • The preparation for Tsagaan Sar begins weeks before the actual national holiday. Mongolians prepare for the new year by cleaning their house, apartment or ger. (In fact, everything is cleaned – even the streets.) Many families will take this time to redecorate by buying new carpets or rugs to hang on the walls. In addition to new household goods, families will buy new clothing as well

Mongolian boots

  • Mongolians clean because they cleaning out the previous year – both literally and metaphorically – with old quarrels being reconciled and outstanding money paid back. Tsagaan Sar brings together family and friends – the problems between each other are put behind them and you start over fresh – you do not bring previous problems forward into the New Year.
What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

One tradition mentioned by Pujee is that: ‘people don’t argue with each other. It is forbidden during Tsagaan Sar.’  As Tsagaan Sar is celebrated by Mongolians all previous things pass away with the previous year. As the new crescent moon rises so the new year starts – positive and white (or clean). During Tsagaan Sar you should not be angry, greedy or sad. You clear your mind and spirit of all negative things and open it up to pure clean positive thoughts.


Bituun | New Year’s Eve  (in brief, prepare and then eat a lot of mutton dumplings)

  • New Year’s Eve is known as  ‘bituun’ – meaning to close down. This is the last night of the current lunar year — when the moon is invisible and darkness is total.
  • Prior to Tsagaan Sar, Mongolian families make literally hundreds of buuz – Mongolian dumplings  (kept frozen until they are steamed for the guests – no need for a freezer when outside it is -30 at night!).  Tsagaan Sar is a time when Mongolians come together to show respect to the family elders and the number of buuz prepared is a way of showing respect to the eldest members of the family. On bituun people eat to be full – it is believed that if you stay hungry you will be hungry for the coming year.

This is bituun in the words of our guest Ross Briggs:

‘On to our hosts, the Zorgio family.  We are invited into the main ger, it is beautiful.  Centre at the back of the ger is the Tsagaan Sar feast.  A stack of large biscuits, 9 high topped with dried cheeses, dried yoghurt, white sweets and sugar cubes.  Around this are plates of buuz, potato salad, pressed mutton, salami and gherkins, pickled vegetables, a large bowl of sweets and beverages.  The eldest daughter serves us individually, milk tea first followed by airag (here it is fermented camel milk, I like it) followed by all the dishes and beverages ending with a shot of vodka.  The hospitality is marvellous.’

Say hello to Bayaraa! One of my female Mongolian trip assistants during Tsagaan Sar - Mongolian Lunar New Year. Most Mongolians will buy a a new del (traditional Mongolian coat) for their Tsagaan Sar - Mongolian Lunar New Year.

What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

Baaska says New Year’s Eve is known as the ‘black day’ (bituunii udur) because ‘there is no moon’. As the first crescent of the new moon rises in the sky,  Tsagaan Sar begins (New Year’s Day is known as Shiniin Negiin) and ‘celebrates the white days and white month. It is about acknowledging the old year having passed and being ready to face a good new white year. For Tsagaan Sar, all people should stay healthy, friendly helpful and together.’


Shiniin Negen | New Year’s Day  (in brief, honour the spirits and honour your family)

Tsagaan Sar | Mongolian Lunar New Year sunrise

  • On the morning of the New Year everyone rises before sunrise to greet the sun. Traditionally, the male head of the household honours the nature and spirits of Mongolia by going to an ovoo – a stone shrine placed on a hill or mountain top. They will take food and offerings and the oldest will voice words of gratitude and praise to the spirit of the mountain and the surrounding area. There are two parts to sunrise on New Year’s Day in Mongolia – sending out the old, and welcoming in the new. Most bring offerings with them: milk, rice, and juniper. First, while it’s still dark, you need to send out the old. And then as the sun rises, so you welcome in the new. (Turuu always says that the air on the first day of Tsagaan Sar is fresh and clean, reminding him that they have successfully passed winter, and that spring has arrived.)

  • In order to have health and happiness in the new year each individual must take their ‘first steps of the New Year’. Their lunar year of birth and the current year will dictate the direction that they walk in – it is believed to be important to start your way in the right direction on the first day of the new year.
  • After the first steps are taken all family members re-enter their home and start the Tsagaan Sar greetings. There are many traditions followed between families on this day such as passing the snuff bottle. The symbolism of the passing of the snuff bottle is new friendship and honouring friends and family.
  • However, one of the most formal traditions is when family members honour their senior relatives in a greeting called ‘zolgokh.’  This is when the younger person places their arms under the elder person’s and hold their elbows  to show support and respect for them as their elder. This is all with the exception of the husband and wife as they are considered one person so they don’t need to be greeted by each other. The zolgokh greeting is carried out with a khadag – the blue sacred scarf. Everyone has their own and uses it throughout the Tsagaan Sar period.
  • The traditional greeting is ‘Ta amar mend baina uu?’ which means ‘How are you doing?’  The answer back to the first greeting is ‘Amar mendee’ which means I am fine, I am good. 

This is New Year’s Day in the words of our guest Ross Briggs:

‘Shine Negiin (New Year’s Day) sees everyone together for zolgokh, a ceremony to show respect and support for your elders. The eldest person is the mother of the Zorgio family, she has pride of place and I, being the second eldest, sit beside her.  The rest of the family form a line around the inside of the ger in age order and start by greeting the mother first and then me.  Being the eldest we are supported at our elbows, the greeting ‘amar mend uu’ is exchanged, and we kiss the cheeks of all the others.  The line folds on its self until everyone has greeted each other, the younger person with their hands under the elbows of the older.  I feel very honoured to be included in this very Mongolian ceremony.’

The Zorgio family, Tsagaan Sar, Mongolian Lunar New Year

The Zorgio Family from Tsagaan Suvraga and our hosts during our Tsagaan Sar Insight experience. Image: EL guest Ross Briggs

What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

As well as marking the change from winter to the early beginnings of spring, Tuya mentions that Tsagaan Sar is also considered a ‘very special time to see relatives’. It has a similar meaning for Unuruu; ‘It is a time for family reunions, for family bonding, respecting elders and having a big traditional party. Also, it is a big chance for relatives to meet and talk about the year just finished.’ Unuruu also mentioned that ‘one of the nicest parts is serving her family’s handmade buuz (dumplings) and other meals and welcoming  new additions to the family – whether that be a baby, brother-in-law or sister-in-law.’


The Tsagaan Sar Table  (In brief, mutton!)

  • Mongolians typically prepare three important dishes for Tsagaan Sar as well as the buuz mentioned above there is also boov – a traditional Mongolian bread (basically biscuits made of flour).

  • The boov are stacked in layers which have to be an odd number – three, five, etc – as the odd numbers represent happiness. The older the family members, the higher the stack of boov to show respect (the number of levels indicates the status of the family, which is determined by the age of the parents and the number of their children). The boov is then decorated with aaruul (Mongolian dried cheese) and small sweets.
  • Also on the table you will find a whole back of a sheep including the fat of its tail. Mongolians try to cook a sheep with as big a tail as possible, wishing the family wealth and prosperity.  It is served on the table for the entirety of the holiday.
The Nergui Family | Tsagaan Sar | Mongolian Lunar New Year

The Nergui family from Erdenedalai and our hosts during our Tsagaan Sar Insight experience.


What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

 Pujee says that ‘Tsagaan Sar is the first day of spring and the last day of winter. It is a very special holiday for Mongolians – our national holiday that we have been celebrating for many hundreds of years. The best thing about Tsagaan Sar is that it provides a  good opportunity to do something with and be together with our families. Before Tsagaan Sar we have to clean all things including our home, clothes and our mind. We have to make boov (traditional Mongolian bread – basically biscuits made of flour) – and dumplings. We make these together as friends and family. Each family member has an important task to do something. For example, some people prepare the flour, other the dumplings and often the children count how many dumplings they made etc. Tsagaan Sar  allows Mongolian people to spend a lot of time with their family.’


If you’re interested in experiencing Tsagaan Sar with Eternal Landscapes you’ll find more details here – and also on our winter tours page – We look forward to welcoming you. And as we say in Mongolia during Tsagaan Sar – ‘sar shinedee saikhan shineleerei.’

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia.
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